Opinion: Now or never for Chelsea’s Ross Barkley
Barkley embraces Lampard during a recent tour match (Image from Getty Images/Masashi Hara)

In 2014, Frank Lampard made the boldest of comparisons between Ross Barkley and Wayne Rooney. Since his glittering debut start in an England shirt five years ago, Barkley hasn’t quite managed to fulfil his very high potential.

Barkley did not and will not become the next Rooney, nor will he become the next Lampard, but he can recuperate his undoubted talent and become the regular goalscoring midfielder Chelsea need. There is no better man to unearth this old habit than the greatest goalscoring midfielder the Premier League has ever seen.

What the two have said already

All those years ago against Ecuador when Barkley ran through the entire team to set up Rickie Lambert, Lampard said that Barkley will be a better number 10.

He said: "I think he's got the bit between his teeth. He's more of a number 10 than I ever was but he's very good at receiving the ball and turning quickly.”

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Fast-forward to now, and it is clear that Lampard’s opinion hasn’t changed. Against Barcelona, in Chelsea’s most recent pre-season match, Lampard employed Barkley in that role for the last half an hour in which he dramatically changed the game.

Previously, Barkley has spoken about the relationship between the two at England and how excited he is to improve under his reign.

He said: “He was a player I looked up to when I was growing up, and then I was lucky enough to play with him as well and take tips from him when we were with England together.”

“Now it’s great to have him as manager. He will pass things that used to work for him in games on to us. To have him back is brilliant for the players because of the experiences he has had over his career, and it’s going to be really exciting for the fans as well.”

Fresh start

On the position that the out of favour Chelsea players – like Barkley – will have in the new season, Lampard was assured that he has no preconceived ideas and will give more players more opportunities. This approach – unlike Maurizio Sarri’s may be better suited to a ‘confidence player’ like Barkley.

“I would be a fool to come here with ideas about I'm going to freeze anybody out, I want to get the best out of the squad," said the new Chelsea boss. 

“Everybody has an opportunity. I have no preconceived ideas about anybody, I have got a good knowledge of the squad, but I need to see them over the next month.”

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Career so far

Throughout his career, Barkley has only ever been loaned out twice. In the 2012-13 season, he was loaned to both Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United in the Championship. Unlike many other up-and-coming Premier League youngsters, Barkley managed to avoid being trapped in the loan market and established himself at Everton from a very early age.

In the 2013-14 season, Barkley made 38 appearances in all competitions scoring seven goals which was a good return for a 20-year-old.

After that, he became an established Premier League player, with his standout season coming in the 2015-16 where he managed 12 goals and eight assists. This was followed by a season with five Premier League goals and eight assists before eventually getting his move to Chelsea in 2017.

Consequently, Barkley failed to impress at Chelsea and only managed to make two appearances in the entire Premier League campaign.

In the most recent season, he was given a considerably bigger role in the squad. He made 39 appearances across both the Premier League and UEFA Europa League, scoring five goals and recording six assists.

Barkley may have declined in form since becoming a Chelsea player, but as he showed towards the end of last season and in his standout performances in the Europa League, the quality is still there in abundance.

Lampard is arguably one of the most qualified people in world football to unlock and unleash this talent and get Barkley scoring 15 plus goals in a single season for the first time.

Competition

It will be my no means easy for Barkley to establish himself in first-team football. He is not as deserving of an automatic first-team place as other players might be.

His good form towards the end of last season won’t be enough to compel Lampard to hand him the role that he himself maintained for over a decade.

As it stands, his leading competitor is youngster Mason Mount who has already impressed Lampard during their time at Derby County. Mount managed 14 goals in that season under Lampard which is more than Barkley has ever recorded. The spot at the top of the diamond will almost definitely be filled by one of those two players.

Even if Barkley takes a step back into a deeper position in midfield, as he has done before, he will be competing against the likes of Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Crunch time

Ultimately, Barkley has a lot to prove to a lot of people. He has the ability to make that spot his own but has to do so this season. If not, he will be replaced by hungrier, younger players who will eventually drive him out of the club.

This season will either re-start or end Barkley’s Chelsea career. Lampard may very well get the best out of a player he clearly admires but what he does on the pitch will be solely down to him.

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